H.L Mencken, himself, is so controversial – people either love him or hate him. Mencken, similarly, had this view on so many topics. He is remembered for being outspoken and daring for voicing opinions that nobody else would. Yet, the man behind all of the incredible, thought-provoking, emotion evoking writing is just as interesting. For this exhibition, I will focus on Mencken’s life as told through his own writing. It will be interesting to see how a man who is opinionated about everything could illustrate his own life.
In class, we learned about how much he wanted his writing to live on after he did. He released a new part of his Days series one year at a time during his lifetime. Then, by planning some of his works to be published after his death, he was able to keep the anticipation for his new works to live on. I was especially intrigued to know about the life he led. He sounds so cynical – how happy could Happy Days truly be? Would his journals show any vulnerabilities he had or provide a glimpse into his more personal life? Or would he still have a persona created for an audience who expects biting writing?
Two of the objects I have chosen for my exhibition are Happy Days and Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work. With Happy Days, Heathen Days, Newspaper Days and Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work, the majority of his life is covered in different installments. I am curious about how the works flow together, and how they would individually offer insight into his life. Additionally, each of the works was written at a different period of his life – I want to explore if the time when he wrote the memoir affects his view on his own life.
I am drawn to an exhibition focusing on his diaries and autobiographies because I love to journal. When I journal or write in my diary, I am usually not thinking about how other people will perceive what I write about. It is usually an account of my day so I can look back on it later and remember how I felt about a certain issue or a general outpouring of feelings. Mencken did not use it in this therapeutic manner; rather he wanted his legacy to live on. By allowing accounts of different time periods of his life to be released after his death, he had an audience in mind as he created his memoir. He also knew that he could voice his radical opinions after his death to continue to shock people without rebuke. The quality of his work could be appreciated if the reader cared for his outspoken ideas, but the quantity of his works is irrefutablely amazing. Very few writers have written as extensively and broadly as Mencken – the fact that he took time out to document his own life on top of all of the writing and editing he already did is awe-inspiring to me.
On the Omeka website, the exhibition Florida Memory was showcased and described as one of the largest public Omeka collections. The primary audience appears to be students and teachers who wish to learn more about Florida through historical and educational resources provided in the exhibition. It appears that the exhibition is managed by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Library and Information Services, so it is probably updated frequently and well-managed.
Upon clicking on the exhibition, it appears almost like tourism website for a small town. There are categories of photographs, video, audio, collections, exhibits, and classroom. These categories are displayed across the top of the website but also as large thumbnails taking up the majority of the center of the website on the homepage. The thumbnails are useful, however, in that the photos provide a glimpse into what that section of the exhibition might entail. Although it seemed redundant at first to have the categories displayed at both the top and center of the page, once I actually clicked on the photograph thumbnail, it was useful to be able to go to other parts of the website from the categories displayed at the top of the site. Since the subject of the archive is as broad as the history of Florida and students may be looking for specific information, the navigation bar at the top was helpful.
The sheer amount of information was slightly overwhelming – even within the photograph collections, everything from pets to NASA was covered. Somebody hoping to explore different aspects of Florida would benefit from the various ways in which the information can be found: through the search bar, the photographic collections, entire exhibits, and a catalog of terms. This allows the viewer to search for something specific or browse if they do not have an exact subject in mind. There is even a tab to help identify photographs which helps the viewers feel engaged as they can contribute to the site. Similarly, there is hundreds of videos about “The Sunshine State” divided up ranging from tourism videos to civil rights videos. These can also be browsed or searched using the search bar.
This interactive online experience allows the reader to immerse themselves further into Florida’s history than simply viewing images as through possibly a wikipedia site or an in-person exhibition. The amount of information available in such an online format is great, and a multi-media approach can be used to look into certain topics more in depth. Overall, this was a very comprehensive online exhibition by Omeka.
In creating this timeline of Gertrude Stein’s life, I chose to focus on pivotal places, publications, and people with whom she developed relationships. Putting these major events in her life into chronological order helped me make sense of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and made it easier to see where and when scenes occurred. In order to figure out some of the dates for events, I had to do some math and count the number of summers that had passed since so much of her novel based on seasons or calculate the year based off ages and birth dates. I also researched many of the events she mentions so this timeline goes beyond the information presented to us in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
One of my focuses is on her education at both Radcliffe and Hopkins as to show how well educated she was – Alice Toklas obviously was not the only one who would regard Stein as a genius. Her professors were also convinced that she had great potential and most wanted to pass her even though she didn’t put in much effort, and in one case, even refused to take an exam. I thought it was important to include this event, as she was one class away from earning her MD. Instead she happily refused the offer to finish the class and chose not to become a doctor (which seemed very boring to her). She certainly followed through on that and lived a fairly glamorous and exciting life as she used the money from her trust fund to buy art with her brother and her life took a thrilling twist. With Leo, she met numerous famous artists in Paris and developed great friendships with Matisse, Picasso, and the like. This is a key component of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as it gives an insight into her celebrity – like life and the gossip surrounding such big-name artists. For this reason, her relationships with Matisse and Picasso are included. The most important relationship, however, is of course her relationship with Alice, so their first meeting and when they moved in together are included. The photos show the longevity and closeness of the their relationship.
1874 – Gertrude stein is born in West Allgenhy, Pennsylvannia (but grows up in Oakland, California)
1877 – Alice B. Toklas is born in San Francisco.
1893-1897– Stein attends Radcliffe College (attached to Harvard University) to study psychology under William James.
1900-1903 – Stein’s last two years at Hopkins – where she loses interest in medicine, flunks, and is actually grateful because she doesn’t want to study medicine anymore.
1902 – Leo Stein (her brother) moves to London and she comes with him
1903 – Stein moves to Paris and lives at rue de Fleurus. Here, almost immediately, she begins to write her first short novel (which she forgets about for several years).
1904 – Gertrude and Leo decide to start an art collection using their trust fund. They buy paintings by Matisse and Picasso.
-Winter: Gertrude goes to Vollard’s and is introduced to Cezannes (and his nudes).
-Spring: Stien buys Cezannes’ portrait of a woman (which later influenced Stein to write Three Lives.
-Autumn: Stein attends the first Autumn Salon and soon Stein meets Matisse.
During this time, their apartment is turning into a salon, where people can come and visit their art collection and their social lives appear to include many famous artists.
1905 – Picasso begins his portrait of Stein (calculated if he began the portrait at age 24, given Picasso’s birth at 1881). She has over 90 sittings with him in order to complete this portrait. They become very close friends during this time.
-During this time, Stein also writes Three Lives (which is not published until two years later).
1907 – September 8th – Alice B. Toklas arrives and meets Gertrude.
1910 – Alice B. Toklas moves into Gertrude’s apartment in rue de Fleurus, marking the beginning of their relationship.
1911 – Stein meets Mabel Dodge who promotes Gertrude in the United States.
Later, Stein writes The Potrait of Mabel Dodge and privately publishes copies.
-Summer: Meets with John Lane about Three Lives and The Making of Americans.
1913 – Stein plans and helps to publicize Armory Show (the first avant-garde art show in America), but divides her collection with Leo.
1914 – The Great War begins.
-Kahnweiler’s gallery is auctioned off by the French Government and “the old gang” meets up. His collection basically contains all cubist pictures from the past 3 years before the war.
-Stein and Toklas spend 3 months in England during the war.
1916 – Alice and Gertrude volunteer by driving supplies to French hospitals.
1925 – Stein finally publishes The Making of Americans even though she worked on it years ago.
1926 – Stein gives a lecture at Cambridge and Oxford.
1933 – Publishes “The Autobiography of Alice B. Tolkas.”
One can almost hear the thrilling mystery music playing in the background as one picks up this first edition of the Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett. The eyes are torn between the bright green letters and the large comic font and the black and white image of the girl. Just as with his writing, there is so much going on, it’s difficult to decide what to focus on first.
The very first thing my eyes honed in on was the compelling look of the young and beautiful damsel in distress trapped in what appears to be a small window or opening. Her classic red lipstick and dramatic expression look Hollywood ready – which is fitting since Dashiell Hammet’s writing made for great screenplays and movie adaptations. The look is sensational and automatically, as the reader, questions begin to flood your mind: “Who is that girl? Where is she? Why does she look so distraught? Is she alone or is there someone else in the background? Does anybody actually look like that in dire circumstances?” And so forth.
On the other hand, the title in its eye-catching lettering takes up almost half of the cover. The light green has an ominous effect associated with evil and horror films. As the only pop of color on the cover, the lettering also draws attention to itself. Behind the lettering, the reader may realize they are looking at a keyhole – a detail that might not have registered at first. After reading the title though, it would make sense to include a key or keyhole in the picture. The cover has become infinitely more intriguing because that small window could be a keyhole, and of course, all keys lead to something or someplace, so even more questions arise.
A final ingredient in the reader’s experience is the fact that this book is by the one and only Dashiell Hammett, as explicitly emblazoned across the bottom of the cover. By this time he is already well known, so the book is expected to be an exciting and fast-paced page turner and the cover art only adds to this expectation. The blurb on the cover that mentions his other famous book, The Maltese Falcon, builds an association and hints at another promising mystery.
All of this is done without a word mentioned about the plot or the characters – an air of mystery and thrill have already been set in place before a single page has been read. This exact same cover image of the lady in the keyhole is also reprinted on the back (without the lettering). There is no short description or summary or quotes as many novels display nowadays on their back cover. The photo and lettering emphasize to the reader the mystery awaiting them without any description or clues to the actual novel inside. From the beginning, the reader is ready to be excited – and that is the key to effective cover art.
Whatever the origin (okay, Greek) of the thing called “chrestomathy,” its mere phenomenal definition can be described as “a collection of choice passages from an author or authors” (as Mencken points out). It is, in brief, a wholesome habitualization to insults and wits, but often in its later stages, quite serious.
The above paragraph was my attempt of describing Mencken’s writing as Mencken himself might describe it as it is closely modeled after the opening of Mencken’s “Nature of Love.”
In all seriousness, though “Chrestomathy,” this oddity of a word, is highly emblematic of Mencken’s writing, full of words that he finds interesting although they are sometimes unique or quirky. The terms that he revives help to distinguish his writing, so of course the title of his archive should be no exception. Just as his writing caught people’s attention, his collection did just the same – even while I carried around the book this past week, a number of people stopped me and asked about the title. It sparked conversation, which is exactly what he intended to do.
His uniqueness as a writer is evident from the very title of his book, but his talent as an editor helped him to select pieces for the collection. Using his clippings from his own out-of-print writings, unpublished notes, pieces previously written under pseudonyms, and writings which he had already published as himself, he was able to create a mix of his diverse works. The mix is a reflection of his diversity in his work – a writer, an editor, and even an agent of sorts as he found rising writers like James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In particular, I was amused by his piece “The Nature of Love” printed under the section about Women in his chrestomathy. As a piece itself, it is highly intriguing – although probably not the best way to get a date for Valentine’s Day. He asserts that love is actually just a diminishing of disgust, that human contact is superficial, and that the body is in fact greater than the mind (as opposed to the popular saying, the mind is greater than the body). He also insinuates that classes and social boundaries cannot be crossed with love – a Harvard man could not possibly love a chauffeur and a genuinely refined woman would not fall for a Methodist. He further plays off of the stock idea that “Love is blind” by noting how the eye of love can be opaque or “out of focus” (Mencken 16). He thinks that those in love see through a rosy lens through which they edit or improve those who they love. Using the phrases “editing” and “improving” would get a reaction even now – especially now. He could spark a reaction with his controversial topics – such as his writings on the Salisbury lynching – but also a topic as seemingly safe as love. Who doesn’t like Love? Mencken. And apparently everybody else, although they are probably too simple to realize it, because of the weakness of the human mind, as he aptly points out in the very same piece.
From complicated words to simple ideas complicated by Mencken, the Chrestomathy is a true remix of his words.